Meerkat

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Meerkat
Conservation status: Lower risk (lc)
Missing image
Meerkat_Calgary_zoo.jpg
Meerkat


Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Carnivora
Family:Herpestidae
Genus:Suricata
Species:S. suricatta
Binomial name
Suricata suricatta
(Schreber, 1776)
Meerkats at Los Angeles Zoo, California.
Enlarge
Meerkats at Los Angeles Zoo, California.
The meerkat (from Dutch monkey, from Afrikaans lake cat), or suricate, is a small mammal averaging about 2 lb (1 kg) in weight and about 20 in (500 mm) in length. A member of the mongoose family, it inhabits all parts of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa.


Meerkats have strong, curved front claws for digging and a sharply-pointed snout. They are brown with short, parallel stripes across their backs. They are known for standing upright to keep watch, search for prey or warm their stomachs. Meerkats have been known to engage in strange social activities, including what appear to be wrestling matches and foot races. More than one field researcher has reported witnessing meerkats in some sort of singing ceremony they compared to yodeling.

Diet and foraging behaviour

Meerkats are primarily insectivores, but also eat other animals (lizards, snakes, scorpions, spiders, eggs, small mammals, millipedes, centipedes and, more rarely, small birds), plants and fungi (the desert truffle Kalaharituber pfeilii. Meerkats are immune to certain types of venom, including the very strong venom of the scorpions of the Kalahari Desert.

Baby meerkats do not start foraging for food until they are about one month old, and they do so by following an older member of the group who acts as the pup's tutor. Meerkats forage in a group with one sentry watching for predators while the others search for food. Sentry duty is usually approximately an hour long. The meerkat standing guard makes peeping sounds when all is well.

A meerkat has the ability to dig through a quantity of sand equal to its own weight in just seconds. Digging is done to create burrows, to get food and also to create dust clouds to distract predators. [[Image:meerkat.jpg|thumb|left|A meerkat of unknown origin]} The meerkat is carnivorous, consuming mostly insects and spiders but also other small mammals. Meerkats are burrowing animals, living in large underground networks with multiple entrances which they only leave during the day. Colonies can consist of up to 40 individuals. They hunt in groups and protect their young.

Meerkat calls have recently been noted to carry an element of meaning, with specific calls alerting to the approach of snakes, birds of prey, or other predators. How these calls evolved is not clear. They are a clear demonstration that meaning is not solely the domain of human language, although no one would claim that the calls of the meerkat constitute a form of language.

A meerkat of unknown origin
Enlarge
A meerkat of unknown origin

Meerkats acquired some fame among the general public after David Attenborough narrated Meerkats United, a popular BBC documentary about them. In popular culture, the meerkat may be best known through the character Timon from the film The Lion King.

External Links

de:Erdmnnchen eo:Surikato fr:Suricate it:Suricata suricatta nl:Stokstaartje pl:Surykatka pt:Suricata

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